Sons of Norway project moves ahead

A neighborhood organization’s appeal of the Uptown redevelopment was denied

This rendering shows a signature feature of the Sons of Norway redevelopment, a seven-story tower at the corner of Lake & Humboldt. File image
This rendering shows a signature feature of the Sons of Norway redevelopment, a seven-story tower at the corner of Lake & Humboldt. File image

The redevelopment of a key Uptown site is moving ahead despite an attempt by the East Calhoun Community Organization to reduce the scale of a proposed mixed-use project.

ECCO argued that the planned 7-story development on the Sons of Norway site at 1455 W. Lake St. was too tall and, with 319 proposed residential units and 23,000 square feet of commercial and office space, too dense for the popular, bustling neighborhood near Bde Maka Ska. It appealed the Planning Commission’s decision in January to grant six land-use applications for the project, including one to rezone a portion of the site to high-density R6 from medium-density R4.

The City Council Zoning and Planning Committee denied the appeal Feb. 15 on a 3–1 vote. Council Member Lisa Goodman was the lone dissenter. Voting to deny the appeal were council members Jeremy Schroeder and Kevin Reich and Council President Lisa Bender.

A project of Weidner Apartment Homes with developer Ryan Companies, the project would replace the Sons of Norway’s three-story headquarters and a large surface parking lot near the heart of Uptown. The plan includes two structures connected via a five-story glass walkway and a rounded tower at the corner of Lake & Humboldt.

More than 20 people spoke during the public hearing, and roughly twice as many supported ECCO’s appeal as opposed it.

Carol Dines, who lives several blocks from the proposed redevelopment, described the project as “really bad urban planning for our neighborhood.”

“If the goal in the city is to build walk-able, bike-able spaces, the Sons of Norway density is not responsible planning in an area that is already highly congested five months of the year,” Dines said, adding that the project’s 323 proposed parking spaces were inadequate.

“It’s particularly that rezoning that is troublesome to people in my community,” said ECCO resident Lara Norkus-Crampton, a former Planning Commission member. Norkus-Crampton said the number of land-use exceptions required by the project showed just how far the city was willing to stray from the Uptown Small Area Plan, a non-binding document that suggests guidelines for new development.

Project supporters, including Nathan Campeau, who described himself as a neighborhood resident and former member of the ECCO board, said the proposed density was ideally suited to a walk-able neighborhood served by high-frequency transit. Campeau said the additional residents would boost neighborhood businesses, and described the redevelopment as “just one of many needed projects” to address the city’s housing shortage.

Goodman, who said she otherwise supported the redevelopment, agreed with the project’s critics on one key point. She said the design failed to include a gradual “step-down” to neighboring single-family homes and duplexes as is recommended in the Uptown Small Area Plan.

“I don’t think it’s really open to interpretation that five stories stepping down to two is not the graceful stepping-down the small area plan suggested,” she said.

Goodman described the city’s small area plans as “a contract, in a way” between the city and neighborhoods, one that creates an expectation that elected officials would “work toward something that would be better and more consistent” with its recommendations.

But Bender, whose Ward 10 includes the ECCO neighborhood, said the city didn’t ignore the small area plan’s recommendations. The building planned for the rezoned portion of the site is similar in scale to an R4 building, she said, but without the density allowed for in R6, the redevelopment would consist of fewer, larger and more expensive residential units.

“I can’t in good conscience, as an elected official in the city of Minneapolis, force a developer to build multi-million dollar homes at this location,” Bender said. “It just isn’t consistent with any of our policies or the promises that I have made when I ran for office.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Nathan Campeau as a former neighborhood resident. He still lives in ECCO.

  • peacekimi

    Bender…. how many of the 326 units will be for people making minimum wage? Didn’t you campaign on affordable housing?
    Why is it all new apartments do not have a certain percent of units set aside for income based rent?

    As for 7 stories versus 5 surely the developer asked for seven to start with knowingly they would get 5.

    Thank you Goodman.

  • Nathan Campeau

    Hoping this gets corrected in the story. I am a CURRENT ECCO resident and a former board member.

  • Jason Kloster

    It’s really disheartening when the ECCO neighborhood develops the “Small Area Plan”(SAP) with thought and foresight only to be swept under the rug and ignored by the current City Council members on the Z&P committee. The south building is zoned for 33 units, and the CC is allowing 155….how is this in any way following the SAP?

  • Dylan Thomas

    My apologies, Nathan! It’s fixed.

  • Nathan Campeau

    thank you!!

  • Tamara Kaiser

    ‘m really baffled–ok, offended–by Lisa Bender’s statement that she can’t “force developers to build multi million homes at this location”. Where, on this good earth, did she come up with the idea that asking for lower density on 31st street means anyone thinks we should build multi million dollar homes??? Or that building multi million dollar homes is the only option developers would have if they worked within existing R4 zoning? This is a manipulative distortion of the consistent message ECCO residents have sent to her and the rest of the city council regarding their concerns. As usual, she characterizes herself and those who agree with her as the good guys, the only ones with a “good conscience,” the only ones who really care about goals like having affordable housing and stemming urban sprawl. Those who disagree with her tactics are characterized as rich, old, out of touch and selfish NIMBY’s, who, in this case, want to force the unfortunate, helpless developers to build homes that no one but the very very wealthy can afford to buy.

    We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: These proposed apartments will be rented at a rate that is 37% higher than current ECCO rents ( A significant concern about this project is that the effect of it and others like it is to RAISE, NOT LOWER rents in this area. Ms. Bender and others campaigned on values such as affordable housing and stable neighborhoods. But the constant buying, building, and flipping of developments in this area by local, national and international speculators is resulting in a situation where current renters have to move out because of increases in their rent. This is not conjecture. It’s happening now.

    The actions of Bender and others suggest that what they really want is more high end housing for more wealthy people. And maybe, just maybe, some of these new places will also have a few subsidized housing units. And, by the way, there are a lot of Minneapolis residents who are neither wealthy enough to pay raising rents and home prices nor poor enough to qualify for subsidized housing. Should those folks all just “move to the suburbs,” as many have suggested to those who express concerns about what’s happening here?

    While we’re at it, you know that argument about how all these people in Uptown are “good for business?” Well, according to an article published in this very paper, a 2016 study found that rentals for businesses in Uptown are $2 per square foot higher than elsewhere in the city, and that this makes it hard for smaller local business to succeed here. Hmmm. I guess it’s “good for business’ if the only goal is to support big, wealthy, chain stores.

    So. Let’s have a neighborhood that consists of primarily wealthy people, a few very poor people, old people who have returned from the suburbs after raising their families, and young people who have not yet had theirs (they probably won’t want to live in their cool, 400 square foot, $1200 per month, “micro apartments” with an additional 1-3 or more people). And only people who want to do all their shopping at the same stores and restaurants they can find anywhere in America. Nice vision, Lisa.

    Tamara Kaiser

  • Joe Hasday

    What Ms. Bender is arguing here is that if you force the developer to further reduce the number, of units, then each unit will need to produce more profit in order for the project to make economic sense. In order to accomplish that, you’d need to make the units more expensive either by making them larger, better appointed or both. “Multi-million dollar” is probably hyperbole. She is a politician after all.

    Your argument that because the proposed rents of this development are higher than the rents of the existing rental stock in the area that this “raises rents” is bogus. Anytime you increase the supply of something, that will tend to push prices downward. I’d expect the rental rates of other units in the area to experience downward pressure because of the addition of so many new units.

  • cpepin

    To me, that statement by CM Bender clearly shows she is looking out for the developer (and his profit margin) rather than looking out for her constituents (and their Small Area Plan).
    No one could “force” the developer to build multi-million dollar homes—because the prices are determined by the developer’s priority to maximize profits. CM Bender is basically throwing over the USAP because of her own views (in this case that 38 units is not enough for the developer to make enough profit). When it comes to development, who she really represents is herself and her personal perspective and vision for density, even when both conflict with established zoning and the Minneapolis Comp Plan and neighborhood small area plans.

  • cpepin

    “A lot of my buddies in the for-profit development world will say if we just built more housing in general, prices will plummet. But there’s no reasonable amount of building that’s going to happen in St. Paul or Minneapolis in the next 20 years that will make apartments more affordable for the lowest part of the market.”
    “The private market place has never produced affordable housing just because the community needs it, and will never,” Arthur said. “The only time the private market has produced affordable housing is when government has offered significant incentives — sometimes totally giving away money — to do so.”

  • Joe Hasday

    I don’t disagree with this, though it doesn’t refute my point. My argument is that increased supply will put downward pressure on rents. This is an economic truth. You’re saying that it doesn’t put enough downward pressure and never will for the lowest income residents to afford housing. Agreed. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be building new market rate housing as well as subsidized housing (I don’t really like the term “affordable” because affordability is in the eye of the beholder. Subsidized is really the more accurate term). After all, someone has to actually pay that subsidy.

  • cpepin

    Economic theory relies on many assumptions, and in practice–in the real world–those assumptions are often not true. So it’s not necessarily true that anytime supply increases, prices decrease. That statement is based on the assumption that demand remains the same. As Minneapolis’ population continues to increase, demand for housing is increasing, which puts upward pressure on prices. One assumption that does seem to be true in any scenario is that developers want to maximize their profits; hence they want to build expensive “luxury” housing units even though most people don’t demand luxury. But it’s important to remember that it’s not about affordable housing in this case; these units are not affordable! Like most residents in our neighborhood and throughout the City, ECCO residents don’t oppose density. The problem is that density is being forced in ways that harm neighborhoods while enriching and empowering developers to shape growth in our City, at the expense of residents. It doesn’t have to be this way–increased density is possible in ways that enhance, rather than harm, the livability of our neighborhoods. The Comp Plan has many provisions to ensure development that is orderly, predictable, and sustainable, and that builds on strengths, eliminates weaknesses, is incremental, and retains the scale and character of neighborhoods. But those provisions are being ignored and development is occurring that destabilizes neighborhoods and encourages speculation—which increases prices, reduces diversity, and diminishes livability. At this point it seems much more likely that the high prices of the housing in this development will drive up speculation and prices of existing units.

  • Joe Hasday

    So, increasing supply raises prices. Does that mean that halting development or even tearing down some housing will reduce rents? Why don’t we just do that then! San Francisco is a good example of what happens to rents when people are overly opposed to development.

    Again, “affordability” is in the eye of the beholder. If the developer is trying to maximize their profits, they are going to try to offer the optimal mix of quality, quantity and size of units. It sounds like what you’re saying is that they can just build the most luxurious, expensive units wherever they want and renters will be forced to pay whatever the developer wishes to charge. In the developer’s mind, there are lot of people who are willing to pay $1,200 for a 400 sq ft unit in this neighborhood. They may be wrong, and if they are that’s going to hurt their bottom line. They certainly have done more research into the local rental market than you or I have.

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